Speaking at the Russian Embassy last Friday in London, Russia coaches Henry Paul and Kingsley Jones were in town for the London Sevens and building up anticipation for next year’s Sevens World Cup which will be held in Moscow. Still new to coaching the Sevens side, the task facing Paul over not just the next 12 months but building up to the Olympics in 2016, is rather daunting.
“At the moment we don’t have enough depth. It’s only my third tournament as a coach, so I’ve been coming in and speaking to other coaches over this weekend. It’s great that England and New Zealand have centrally contracted players. When I was playing with England it was part-time but we still did well with what we had. For Russia at the moment, we have to run a similar system in sharing players from XVs and 7s because there just aren’t enough players.”
“The difficulties we have in Russia are that for 6-8 months of the year, it’s freezing. We have to train inside or in the gymnasium and that is a major obstacle. It’s more about time together for us than having centrally contracted Sevens players. I’m still trying to figure out who the best 15 players are in Russia, and then I need to be working with those guys for about three to four months before the next Sevens World Cup, because we want to do well on home soil. We might not win it, but we want to seriously compete.”
Russia at last year’s Rugby World Cup showed plenty of good attacking play, with Vasily Artemyev leading the charge, offering a sign of what the future might hold. The problem though facing Jones & Paul currently, is securing enough possession to make it work.
“Guys like Yuri Kushnarev at fly-half need better competition within the squad, which comes back to the strength in depth that we don’t have. With competition for your spot, you play at your best. Yuri’s a good player with a good kicking game, but there are aspects he needs to work on. The backs are not really a massive problem for us though – it’s getting the ball from the forwards which is where Kingsley (Jones) works doggedly everyday. We’re still not getting the right techniques and we need to make sure that’s getting taught at club level.”
Although Russia’s forward techniques do need some work, unfortunately so do the facilites. “I went down to one of the clubs the other week and they had a really great session, but they’re also having to train on a field where javelins are being thrown and athletes are using the try areas. What kind of good team can develop if they’re dodging javelins? If we get the players in for one week before a Test match, there’s only so much you can do to improve the habits they’re gaining at club level. We’ve got talented players that can run the ball, but our tackling technique needs real work.”
Having originally signed a four-year deal, Paul has big ambitions of where he wants to be not just in 12 months time, but also looking further ahead to the Olympic Games in 2016. What matters however is getting together a pool of players who are not only good enough, but well managed.
“I’d love to take this team to the Olympics in the long-term. I’d like to have 20 players to call on, of which 10 will be good enough to compete for us in the Sevens World Cup next year.
That means they’ll have to be managed well; if they’re playing club games and Sevens and full internationals how soon till they burn out? You can’t just keep squeezing the blood out of players without causing damage.”
Paul’s old side Gloucester have endured a poor season, with head coach Bryan Redpath resigning and a number of first team players leaving Kingsholm over the summer. Still based in the UK when not over in Russia, Paul is confident they will come again. “They’re in a bit of transition, like a lot of clubs. If you look at Saracens and why they’ve done well, it’s because they’ve put a lot of money into the club.”
“When I was first at Gloucester with Tom Walkinshaw, we did the same and spent a lot of money on recruitment and it paid off because we won the Powergen and topped the league a couple of times. Is the money still there? I’m not sure, but there are some quality internationals coming in. They’ve not done too well the last couple of years so maybe they did need a clear out. They will still be a threat at Kingsholm and they’ve got some very good young players coming through.”
As for England, whilst Paul admits that England have rediscovered the team spirit that was missing in New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup, the quality of their rugby has not left him overly enthused.
“I was impressed with the way Stuart brought them together, but apart from the game against Ireland I wasn’t that impressed with the way they played. They were dogged and played with a lot of spirit, but the actual rugby was a bit lucky. He’s doing the right thing picking young guys on form because that ups the intensity in training. Stuart’s plied his trade and the results speak for themselves. I think they can win one of the Tests this summer in South Africa, whether it’s the first one or second, but the Lions in the past have shown how to go down there and win. Rugby’s a funny game – you write off a team at your peril.”
by Ben Coles